Finding a Job

How To Avoid Ageism During Your Job Search (With Resume Tips)

February 21, 2021

According to a study by AARP, 61% of respondents over 45 reported having seen or experienced age discrimination in their careers. Additionally, according to a 2017 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, job candidates from ages 29-31 received 35% more callbacks than those ages 64-66. Age bias also seems to disproportionately impact female job seekers — according to AARP, 72% of women aged 45 to 74 said they think people face age discrimination at work as opposed to 57% of men in the same age range.

The mature workforce (age 55+) is the fastest-growing age group in the workforce and is expected to make up a quarter of employed U.S. adults by 2026. If you fall into this category, we must address the challenges you may encounter when searching for jobs. While employers are responsible for following applicable anti-discrimination laws and continuously critiquing their hiring processes to remove bias, there are several steps you can take as a job seeker to set yourself up for success that may help reduce potential age bias from employers and recruiters.

Why age bias exists

While many employers may not intend to discriminate based on age we know that it can happen. Age bias can be especially prevalent in some industries, such as tech. In a recent Indeed study of 1,011 currently employed U.S. tech workers in the U.S., 29% of respondents said the average employee age at their company is between 31 to 35. Furthermore, 17% said their company’s average age is between 20 to 30.

By contrast, three in 10 respondents say that the average age of employees at their company is 36-40 years old, making them members of the younger end of Generation X. Individuals over 40 share the remaining 26%.

In other words, this study shows that close to half of employees are millennials. And yet, only 23% of survey respondents think that this demographic is overrepresented at their workplaces. By contrast, under 1/5 (18%) respondents feel that the baby boomer (1946-65) generation is underrepresented at their company.

Some employers may have certain baseless concerns over hiring candidates over 50. According to Dr. Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania — an expert in human resources, public policy and talent management — “Discrimination has common roots in fear of differences,” he explains. “Myths persist when we don’t see evidence, and we haven’t had a contradictory experience ourselves.”

Some examples of those myths might include ideas that ...

  • Older workers are counting the days until retirement
  • Older workers don’t have today’s skills
  • Older workers won’t report to younger managers
  • Older workers will only accept high salaries

Maintaining such beliefs may simply hinder the success of a business and be harmful to company culture. Contrary to common myths about mature employees, research indicates that multigenerational workforces are not only more productive but also have less turnover than those without age diversity.

Finding the right company

When searching for a job, you likely have a list of non-negotiables and preferences such as company values, salary, benefits, leadership style and more. These are great ways to filter your job search to find the best, most relevant opportunities for you. If you are a mature job seeker, another quality you might consider is age diversity tolerance, or in other words, a culture built and maintained to equally support, employ and advance individuals regardless of their age.

One way to do this during the job search phase is by paying close attention to the language employers use throughout the hiring process, starting with the job posting. Look out for phrases like “high energy,” “overqualified,” “ninja/guru,” or “digital native.” Language like this is often coded and refers to young candidates, and if you see it in a job description, it might signal that the employer or culture may not be supportive and inclusive. Indeed takes steps to remove job postings that include the phrase “digital native” through our search quality team who monitors postings that may be discriminatory.

How to avoid age bias in your resume

Because your resume is typically your first chance to make an impression on the employer, it is also the first chance age bias can be introduced into the hiring process. Here are several tips to optimize your resume so employers will be more likely to focus on your skills, qualifications and qualities instead of your age.

Read more: How To Update an Old Resume in 4 Steps

Format your resume appropriately.

One of the most important things about your resume is that it is clean, meaning it is professional-looking and easy to read. If you’re unsure what a modern professional resume looks like, you can start by browsing free templates on Indeed that have been created based on employer preferences.

While the specifications of a clean and professional resume may vary by industry, you can start by making sure your resume meets the following standards:

  • Fits comfortably on one page, unless you are an executive or senior leader
  • Margins are .5 inch minimum to 1 inch maximum
  • One professional, easy-to-read font is used throughout
  • Font size is 10 to 12 point, apart from section headers which can be slightly larger
  • (Optional) Bold your name and section headers
  • The right font may vary by industry, but it is typically best to select a stylized sans-serif font such as Ariel, Helvetica or Calibri.

The right font may vary by industry, but it is typically best to select a stylized sans-serif font such as Ariel, Helvetica or Calibri. Make sure to include spaces between sections so it's easy to read without leaving too much blank space at the top or bottom of your resume, which can be distracting.

Read more: Resume Format Guide (With Tips and Examples)

Modernize your contact information.

Your contact information section should include your full name, email address, city and/or state, and one phone number that is best to reach you. For example:

Sam Wu

samw@e-mail.com | 555-123-1234 | City, ST

Name

Remember, your resume is not a legal document, so it is acceptable to use your preferred name on your resume. You will use your legal name for other official documents during the hiring process, such as background checks and insurance forms. There are many formatting options for writing your name, depending on your goal. Here are just a few examples:

  • Samuel Wu
  • Sam Wu
  • Sam "Taylor" Wu
  • Taylor Wu
  • S. Taylor Wu
  • Sam T. Wu

Address

Including your full physical address is no longer necessary since much of the hiring process is done online and doing so raises safety concerns for some candidates. You can include your city and state or even just your state.

Email

Consider using a current email domain as opposed to platforms that were popular when email first became a widespread form of communication, such as AOL or Hotmail. It is best to use a professional email address that is not distracting and gives a positive first impression. For example, instead of hockeydad58@e-mail.com, you might opt for sam.wu@e-mail.com.

Phone number

Be sure to only include one phone number that you can be most reliably contacted by. Record a brief, professional personal voicemail message instead of leaving the default message.

De-emphasize your education and remove graduation dates.

Because you likely have a wealth of valuable experience employers want to read about, it is typically best to move your education section to the bottom of your resume. Removing associated education attendance dates and details can also remove the distraction of older graduation. The more you can create interest in your work experience, the better.

If you have advanced degrees like your masters or Ph.D., include those in rank order of level (ex. Ph.D., Master’s, Bachelor’s, etc.). In this example, the candidate included two diplomas:

Atlanta Graduate School of Management | Atlanta, GA
Master’s of Business Administration (MBA)
Master’s of Science in Information Systems (MSIS)

Read more: How To Include Education on Your Resume

Create an ATS-friendly resume with keywords.

Remember, your resume will likely go through an applicant tracking system (ATS) before it's read by human eyes. An ATS is software used by employers to sort through all of the applications they initially receive for a job posting. Recruiters and hiring managers filter through resumes by using the ATS to identify specific keywords and phrases that indicate the application is a good fit for the role.

To help get past the ATS, it's important that you carefully read the job description and tailor your resume accordingly. Include keywords that apply to your background in your resume summary, skills and professional experience sections. Avoid over-adding keywords, which ATS' are generally able to flag, by including keywords with natural language instead of carelessly adding a high volume of keywords throughout.

Read more: Strategies To Beat the ATS and Land the Interview

Keep your professional experience recent and emphasize your impact.

While you may have 15 or more years of professional experience, including jobs older than 15 years may distract employers from your wealth of skills and qualifications and give away your age. You should also consider removing less relevant jobs that may not add value to the specific role you’re applying for. Doing so can also help you keep your resume on one page without cramming it with small fonts or extra-thin margins.

Your most recent job(s) should be the longest with five to seven descriptive bullets. The rest of your jobs should only have two to four bullets. Remember, instead of including job descriptions and general duties, describe the specific impact you were able to make at each of your jobs with numbers when possible. For example, a district manager could say, “Surpassed profit goals by 10% in the summer of 2016, outperforming other districts in sales and profit” instead of “Responsible for meeting profit goals by establishing quarterly sales strategies.”

Reviewing job descriptions can also help you identify your industry’s current words, skills, qualities that align with employer expectations. Using this language in your resume and cover letter can show you’re up-to-date with the latest industry standards.

If you’re unsure whether you’ve got the right information in your resume, you can get professional help by filling out our resume feedback questionnaire.

Read more: Listing Professional Experience on Your Resume

How to avoid age bias during an interview

Preparing for your interview ahead of time can help you appear calm and confident, as well as help you to address any inappropriate, age-related comments or questions. It can help to research common interview questions in general, as well as for your specific industry.

It is also helpful to prepare for behavioral interview questions that test your situational skills and ability to respond thoughtfully on your feet. Use the STAR response method in these cases. Also, you should prepare to answer (and possibly demonstrate) any relevant skills-related questions, particularly about required technical or hard skills.

Here are some additional ways you can succeed in your interview as a mature candidate:

Emphasize your excitement for the role instead of your wealth of experience.

For example, you might show that you are excited about the opportunity by studying their business model and mission and coming to the interview prepared with ideas that pertain to your role.

Express your willingness to both lead and follow.

It is important that as a mature candidate, you communicate a desire to collaborate. Collaboration skills are highly valued in today’s workforce and you should prioritize them as such in the interview.

Indicate your ability to be self-sufficient.

Employers value self-aware candidates who can find answers to simple questions, identify their strengths and weaknesses and identify ways to improve. You should also communicate your ability and eagerness to learn and get up to speed quickly.

Communicate your ability to work with different people.

Diversity in age is equally as important in the workforce as diversity in race, culture, ideas, gender and more. It is important to express how you value working with people who are different from you and how you might resolve inevitable conflict professionally when it arises.

Show genuine interest in your interviewer.

Asking thoughtful, smart questions about your interviewer, their role and the organization can help build a connection with your interviewer. Doing so can build rapport and encourage a positive experience for both parties during the interview.

Be comfortable.

Use confident, calm body language throughout your interview. Make eye contact and smile. You don’t have to dress in a way you feel will make you fit in — simply show up in clean, tidy clothing that makes you feel confident. If you’re unsure, business casual is usually a safe option. For tips on phone or video call interviews, visit our guide on How to Succeed in a Virtual Interview.

Redirect the conversation in the case of inappropriate comments or questions.

If your interviewer makes comments about or asks questions related to age, politely ask clarifying questions or simply steer the conversation back towards the job. For example, if they ask something such as “How long do you plan to work?” you might say something like, “At this stage in my career, I want to employ my background to serve a mission I care about, like yours. The ways I believe I’m best equipped to make a difference at this company are ...”

As a mature job seeker, you likely have a wealth of valuable experience to offer organizations. To help communicate that value, tailor your resume to the job description and ensure it is easy to read, prepare for your interview ahead of time and apply for opportunities with employers who will be more likely to value your unique skills and abilities.

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